Bell Media president asked CTV News for ‘positive spin’ on stories about Bell: report

Audio recordings of the executive also reportedly included comments about wanting a more "balanced perspective" in news coverage

Bell Media president Wade Oosterman reportedly asked news managers to find a more “balanced perspective” in news and provide a “positive spin” in stories about Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE).

The information comes from a detailed Globe and Mail report citing an audio recording of Oosterman and information shared by two former news managers that the publication did not identify. Oosterman’s comments reportedly came from an August 24th meeting following Bell Media’s dismissal of CTV anchor Lisa LaFlamme.

The managers told the Globe that Oosterman criticized LaFlamme’s news coverage as too favourable of the federal Liberal government. In the recording, Oosterman said CTV had to fix a “situation where we actively ignore I would say half of the viewers.”

In the same recording, Oosterman said that CTV journalists should “help” in reporting on BCE, though Oosterman stressed journalists shouldn’t “shill for the corporation.” Instead, Oosterman used an example of reporting on Bell’s finances and said that if journalists had a choice between a headline focusing on, for example, flat revenue or a rise in profits, they should run a positive headline about the rise in profits.

“But for God’s sake, if there is a choice between helping and not helping – help,” Oosterman said in the recording.

Oosterman’s comments seem to go against BCE’s policy on journalistic independence, which was enacted in 2015 after Kevin Crull, Bell Media’s president at the time, was ousted for interfering in the coverage of a regulatory decision.

BCE’s senior vice president of communications told the Globe in a statement that the company’s journalistic code allows executives to “offer ideas for news coverage,” but ultimately, editors make coverage decisions.

Oosterman also discussed maximizing “the leverage” of delivering content to 24 million screens so that Bell Media doesn’t “have to cut costs.”

“The economics of news are dismal,” Oosterman said in the recording. “If we don’t get more people to watch our stuff, we need to get, like, serious about cost-effectiveness.”

The Globe‘s report comes after Bell cut 1,300 positions and closed or sold nine radio stations in mid-June. Bell blamed the cuts on unfavourable regulatory conditions. Meanwhile, the company recently asked the CRTC to drop its spending and airtime requirements for local television news.

Source: The Globe and Mail